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The origins of what we know today as Chateau Cantemerle lie in the Middle Ages, when the chateau formed one part of the Médoc's defensive line against attack. Exactly how the name Cantemerle came into existence, however, is open to debate. Various fanciful stories exist, the least incredulous of which concerns a large cannon named merle. Such armoury would not be unusual on a fortified battlement of the Middle Ages, and merle may well be derived from merlon, meaning battlement. The name itself first appears in 1147, when the presence of Pons de Cantemerle, one of the Seigneurs of Bordeaux, was recorded at the donation of land to the monks at La Sauve Majeur Abbey. Whatever the origins of the name though, by the mid-13th Century Cantemerle is an important Seigneurie in Bordeaux. A knight by the name of Pons de Cantemerle - presumably one of the descendents of the feudal lord mentioned above - was in residence in 1241, and fought on the side of the English at the Battle of Taillebourg. Despite losing, he managed to hold onto his Médoc estate.<br/><br/>The first evidence of viticulture at Cantemerle is from 1354, when the owner, Ponset de Cantemerle, was recorded as paying a debt with a tonneau of clairet – a barrel of the local wine. For several centuries, however, wine was a minor part of life at Cantemerle; the Médoc produced more cereal and beet than wine at this time, and it is many years before wine is mentioned again. In the interim, the estate changed hands several times, passing first to the Caupène and then to the La Roque families, latterly through the marriage of Jeanne de Caupène to Henry de la Roque. This family hold the seat through the early 16th Century, and there is more evidence of viticulture (or rather the vine as part of polyculture), when Jehan de la Roque is recorded as possessing several debts, six barrels of wine and some chickens. The family sold up in 1579, however, the purchaser being Jean de Villeneuve, who then married Antoinette de Durfort; the Villeneuve de Durfort family went on to manage the estate of Chateau Cantemerle for several hundred years. The feudal era had passed, and the family took on the more modern title of lord rather than seigneur; their estate was extensive, covering several noble houses, including Gironville, Maucamp and Sauves. At the latter house in 1643 there resided Hector de Villeneuve, brother to the Lord of Cantemerle. It is this manor house that was renamed Cantemerle, quite distinct from the Medieval fortification where the name originated; and it was here that the family received their annual harvest of grapes, and where the wine was made.<br/><br/>In the 19th Century the Villeneuve de Durfort family maintained control, having demolished the 17th Century manor house and erected a fine chateau, pictured above and also featured on the label below, in its place. The family played an important role in the region and in the advancement of viticulture generally, particularly with regard to the scourge of powdery mildew, which ran rife through many of the vineyards of Bordeaux, those at Cantemerle not excepted. One of the leading figures in the development of a treatment was was Fleuret-Jean-Baptiste; his technique of dusting with sulphur, first tested at Cantemerle, was not only successful, but won Baptiste a number of significant accolades. At around the same time, of course, came the 1855 Bordeaux classification.<br/><br/>Cantemerle always gets a special mention in any debate of this long-outdated ranking of Médoc (and one Graves) properties, simply because inspection of the original document suggests that Cantemerle was an afterthought, scribbled in at the bottom at the last minute by the syndicate of brokers that drew up the list at the request of Napoleon III. At the time Cantemerle was sold direct to merchants in Holland, and lacked the track record of prices on the Bordeaux market that was required. The proprietor at the time was Caroline de Villeneuve-Durfort, who had recently been successful in a legal case against near neighbour Pierre Chadeuil, forcing him to remove the word Cantemerle from his wine labels. Following on from this success, in 1854 she sold her wine in Bordeaux rather than on foreign soil, but this was clearly not long enough to register in the minds of the 1855 brokers. Undaunted, Caroline de Villeneuve-Durfort jolted their collective memory with the presentation of a dossier amassed during her legal case, documenting Cantemerle's selling price (the basis for the 1855 classification) which placed it comfortably alongside the other Cinquième Crus. Cantemerle made it onto the list as a last minute amendment; early publications, as well as a map displayed at the 1855 Exposition Universelle de Paris, still did not include it, although with time this was rectified.<br/><br/>The Villeneuve-Durfot family sold up to the Dubos family in 1892. Théophile-Jean Dubos and his descendants managed the estate up until 1981, initially turning out great wines, but less so in latter years, the common problem of chronic under-investment being the root cause. Since 1981 the chateau is now owned by Groupe SMABTP (Les Mutuelles d'Assurance du Bâtiment et des Travaux Public), with director Phillippe Dambrine and cellar master Pascal Berteau in charge. Investment is no longer a problem.<br/><br/>The vineyards at Cantemerle expanded from 33 hectares to their current size, 87 hectares of Haut-Médoc vines, with silica and gravel soils, and a planting density of 9600 vines/ha. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot account for 50% and 40% respectively, with the remainder split equally between Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc; the vines average 30 years of age. There is a green harvest, and leaf thinning is practised, and eventual yields are up to 55 hl/ha. Selection is achieved in the vineyard, using four sorting tables. On arriving at the winery the grapes are 100% destemmed before up to thirty days maceration and fermentation in conical wooden vats for the best parcels, stainless steel for the rest. A practice unique to Cantemerle is selective devatting, by which only the middle section of the cap is pressed. The upper layer, which includes oxidised grape matter, and the lower layers of pips and other materials, are not included. The wine then sees a year or so in oak with 50% new barrels each year, and only a light fining, no filtration, before bottling. The resulting grand vin is Chateau Cantemerle, with annual production 25000 cases. In addition there is a second wine, Les Allées des Cantemerle, of which 12500 cases are typically produced.<br/><br/>The wines, in my experience, offer very good value. Some are of the opinion that the chateau should be upgraded – perhaps to a third growth. I must confess I am not in agreement, but this should not distract us from the combination of good quality – in keeping with a fifth growth chateau – and a good price. The following tasting notes include a number of vintages of Cantemerle; the predilection for the 1996 vintage reflects a case purchase; I have enjoyed watching the early development of this wine over the past few years. Tasting more recent vintages only confirms my belief that this is a good value property that only label drinkers should overlook. If purchased at the right price, and stored correctly (I have had one or two more mature examples obviously suffering from poor storage), Cantemerle can offer a decade and more of drinking pleasure. (26/1/06, updated 19/10/06)<br/>